How to Write the Princeton Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

How to Write the Princeton Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

Consistently ranked one of the best schools in the country, Princeton University boasts a cozy 5:1 student-faculty ratio, an excellent financial aid program, and a broad range of study abroad opportunities for undergraduates. If you get into Princeton, you’ll be taking classes with professors at the tip-top of their fields – so now it’s just a matter of getting that acceptance letter. We’re here to show you how to write the Princeton supplemental essays, helping you give your best shot at walking through FitzRandolph Gate as a freshman in the Great Class of 2028.

Princeton supplemental essays

For its class of 2026, Princeton reports an average ACT of 33-35, a math SAT of 760-800, and a reading and writing SAT of 730-780. With the norm being top-notch standardized test scores like these – and a similarly top-notch unweighted GPA of 3.9 for previous classes – you’ll need more than just a stellar transcript to stand out. This is where your essays come in.

Princeton asks you to respond to two long-answer and three short-answer prompts, for a total of five prompts in addition to your Common or Coalition App Essay. Don’t let all the writing intimidate you! Each prompt is an opportunity to tip the scales of admission in your favor, and show Princeton officials who you really are beyond your grades and test scores. With that in mind, let’s have a look at Princeton’s seven supplemental essay prompts for the 2023-2024 application cycle.

Princeton’s 2023-2024 Prompts

Short Responses (50 words)

  1. What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?
  2. What brings you joy?
  3. What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?

Essay Prompts

  1. Princeton values community and encourages students, faculty, staff and leadership to engage in respectful conversations that can expand their perspectives and challenge their ideas and beliefs. As a prospective member of this community, reflect on how your lived experiences will impact the conversations you will have in the classroom, the dining hall or other campus spaces. What lessons have you learned in life thus far? What will your classmates learn from you? In short, how has your lived experience shaped you? (500 words)
  2. Princeton has a longstanding commitment to understanding our responsibility to society through service and civic engagement. How does your own story intersect with these ideals? (250 words)
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General Tips

For the 3 short-answer prompts, you’ll need to convey a meaningful response within a tight 50-word maximum. To do this, we recommend the following tips: avoid restating the question, trim unnecessary connector words, and use colons, semicolons, and em dashes to improve concision.

The two example responses below have the same word count—but the first uses choppy, overly verbose writing, and the second cleans it up using the tips we’ve just discussed.

“A new skill that I would like to learn in college is how to analyze literature. I would like to be able to discuss books like John Locke’s Two Treatises in greater depth. This is because it interested me in high school, but I didn’t understand many of Locke’s theories.”

“John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government has confounded and intrigued me ever since I first read it in high school. At Princeton, I’d love to sharpen my literary analysis skills through discussions with my classmates—and return to writers like Locke with a new understanding of the written word.”

The long essay prompts give you more room to work with – 150 words for the first prompt and 250 for the other two—but choppy sentence structure, run-ons, and unnecessary fluff will confuse your reader no matter the length of the essay. As such, you should always strive for concision, even with the longer prompts.

To ensure a well-rounded application, try to write your essays on topics you haven’t mentioned in other prompts or your transcript. Admissions officials may start to see you as single-faceted if they see your coding team in your activity list, then read about the same coding team two more times in your short responses. To avoid this, vary your essay topics as much as you can—and take advantage of any prompts where you can discuss an aspect of your background that isn’t reflected in your transcript.

Finally, before we move to a prompt-by-prompt breakdown of the Princeton supplemental essays, here are two tips to keep in mind for both your short responses and long-answer essays.

One, be detailed. For longer essays, try to go from specific anecdotes to broader themes—introductory paragraphs in particular benefit from starting on a direct quote or an engaging scene. For shorter prompts, pick responses that showcase your unique personality. Here’s an example: good food brings everyone joy, but maybe your favorite food is your grandma’s red velvet recipe that you love making with her, even if you can’t quite get it right yourself.

Two, make sure you’re always telling admissions officials about you. This may seem like obvious advice, but many applicants get swept away in explaining the technical aspects of a topic that interests them or describing a school’s resources without connecting them to their own aspirations. Instead of telling admissions officials their School of Public and International Affairs is impressive, tell them why you’re dying to take that one class that aligns perfectly with your interests. Instead of flatly stating that conversations on healthcare are important, tell your reader how a conversation you had completely changed your perspective.

With these higher-level tips out of the way, let’s move on to a prompt-by-prompt breakdown of the Princeton supplemental essays.

Princeton’s Short Responses

What is a new skill you would like to learn in college? (50 words)

For this prompt, specificity is crucial—the more niche the skill you describe, the more interesting and unique your response. For instance, perhaps you want to pick up writing as a skill. But what kind of writing? Academic? Journalistic? Poetry? Narrowing your scope to a laser-focus will show admissions officials you’ve thought about your answer, and truly intend to pursue this skill once you’re on campus.

Another tactic is to focus on an extracurricular. Perhaps you want to learn bird-recognition through Princeton’s surprisingly active birdwatching community, or gain new knowledge about fashion by contributing to TigerTrends. For this approach, you might try skimming through Princeton’s list of student organizations to see if any interest you.

“I want to be funny—and not just dad-joke funny, but gut-bustingly hilarious at all times. As soon as auditions open, I’d love to try out for Fuzzy Dice or Quipfire and take up improv comedy, so I can overcome my stage fright and start thinking on my feet.”

No matter the skill you choose, your response should show admissions officials your willingness to learn through the resources you find at college. Pay attention to the word “new,” and steer clear of skills you already have or that relate to activities you’ve already discussed. Picking a skill you’re completely unfamiliar with will reflect that you’re unafraid to improve yourself by trying new things.

What brings you joy? (50 words)

This is an especially open-ended prompt, which leaves you free to interpret it in a way that’s genuine and personal to you. Your answer could be an object, an activity, a piece of media, a memory, or even a person that makes you happy in your day-to-day life. As always, detail is the key to a unique response—everybody likes a nice view, but only you know the joy of monthly hikes with your dad to the waterfall in the woods outside your hometown.

If you’re having trouble coming up with a specific answer to this prompt, consider the following questions: what do you do to cheer yourself up when you’re feeling down? If you had a spare $100 to spend on a hobby, what would you buy? Do you have strong feelings about your favorite color, or favorite food? As long as you can convey it in 50 words (and it’s appropriate), don’t be afraid to pick something strange—an unconventional answer will only help your essay stand out.

What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment? (50 words)

This one can be a bit tricky. Be creative, and make sure to show your reader why the song you choose reflects your life. It doesn’t have to be a serious classical number either—your little brother’s enthusiastic but slightly off-beat mixtape might represent your life in a more personal way than Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

You might also draw from movie soundtracks, or even a sound that people wouldn’t normally consider a song, such as a crackling campfire. Think about a song that will grab your reader’s attention—unless you have an interesting reason for choosing it, a consistent breaker of the Billboard Hot 100 likely won’t stand out. In contrast, saying you relate to the Super Mario Bros. death jingle or the opening bars of the Star Wars theme will certainly pique some interest.

Princeton’s Essay Prompts

Princeton values community and encourages students, faculty, staff and leadership to engage in respectful conversations that can expand their perspectives and challenge their ideas and beliefs. As a prospective member of this community, reflect on how your lived experiences will impact the conversations you will have in the classroom, the dining hall or other campus spaces. What lessons have you learned in life thus far? What will your classmates learn from you? In short, how has your lived experience shaped you? (500 words)

This prompt is a bit long, so let’s start by breaking it down. You’ll want to do three things here: one, reflect on a lived experience that shaped who you are today; two, explain why it shaped who you are; and three, illustrate how you’ll bring this lived experience as a new perspective to Princeton’s campus community. With a 500-word maximum, you’ll have time to expand on the lessons you’ve learned—but specificity is still key here. Instead of a laundry list of lessons, try picking one that’s central to who you are, and craft your narrative around that.

Here are some example categories you might reflect on:

  • Formative experiences, in school or otherwise
  • Important aspects of your background or identity
  • Core values and beliefs
  • Challenges you’ve overcome
  • People or relationships that impacted you
  • Sources of inspiration

Above all, Princeton often looks for students who can have respectful, open conversations with their peers even when those conversations challenge their beliefs. This prompt reflects that value—pay particular attention to the words “challenge” and “respectful.” You might write about the time you were halfway through an argument with a high-school classmate and realized you were completely wrong, or a career panel you attended that blew your life plans out of the water. If you can show admissions officials you have a unique perspective to bring to campus, and you’re open to other perspectives that might change your mind, you’ll go a long way toward convincing them you’re the kind of student they’re looking for.

Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals. (250 words)

This is another prompt where you might find yourself touching on topics you’ve already mentioned elsewhere – namely, any volunteering experience you might’ve listed in your activity transcript. However, bear in mind that you shouldn’t just be listing these experiences again in slightly more detail. Instead, try to present a compelling narrative about your beliefs regarding community and civic service, and how you came to believe them.

For instance, you might feel strongly that every citizen should exercise their right to vote. How did you first adopt this ideal? How have you furthered it in your own community? Have you volunteered for any voter outreach programs, or platformed information about voter registration on your social media? How did that work continue to shape your belief in being an active voter?

Even if you’ve already mentioned some of these activities in your transcript, providing the full narrative of your experience will give admissions officials a much deeper understanding of your commitment to service. You can craft this narrative by highlighting two things – one, how you gained your current beliefs, and two, how you’ve concretely demonstrated those beliefs in your volunteer work and activities.

Finally, you might also consider mentioning some volunteer opportunities you’re interested in at Princeton. Your conclusion would likely be the best place to include this—if you wrap up your essay by stating how you plan to carry your ideals forward into the future, explaining how you would do so at Princeton specifically could make a perfect endpoint for your narrative.

If you need help polishing up your Yale supplemental essays, check out our College Essay Review service. You can receive detailed feedback from Ivy League consultants in as little as 24 hours.